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To sleeve or not to sleeve cylinders

September 1, 2007 By    

The propane industry has come a long way with grilling safety.

The advent of the Overfill Prevention Device (OPD) valve was a welcome safety feature with propane cylinder filling and use. While propane-grilling accidents have been drastically reduced, we still are seeing accident reports, and that has me concerned.

 Jay Johnston, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist
Jay Johnston, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist

This past July, sportswriter Dan Gilles of The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio, was severely burned from a propane explosion while using his grill.

When it comes to industry image, there is no such thing as a good propane accident. So when it comes to the filling or exchanging of grill cylinders, I believe we must ask questions and examine issues of concern as they surface.

For example, there is a controversy over the use of plastic cylinder sleeves by exchange manufacturers. They refurbish the tank and add their plastic sleeve as they combine marketing with safety warnings. It makes good marketing sense, but does it make good safety sense?

Opinions differ.

Bill Lovelace of Lovelace Gas Service in Orlando, Fla., writes, “I’m concerned with the lack of control over propane cylinder exchange quality and safety.”

Lovelace questions wrapping cylinders in plastic sleeves, which, he believes, become a billboard for the exchange company.

“I have found that refurbished cylinders with a sleeve are concealing the fact that the cylinder warning label has been painted over as well as possible issues with rust due to condensation created by the sleeve,” he says.

This past fall, I took my empty tank to such an exchange program and received a tank with a plastic sleeve. It spent the winter inside the grill cabinet under a cover.

The next spring, I was trying to determine how much gas remained, and I peeled back the sleeve to find the cylinder to be riddled with rust, including pits. Out of curiosity, I tore a piece of the sleeve off and found that it could be lit on fire.

Ironically, there was a note at the bottom of the sleeve that read, “Do not remove, deface or obliterate this label.”

I’m glad I did.

I believe such sleeves also make it difficult for those cylinders to be properly inspected when being refilled. How can a refiller know what is under the sleeve? How can we be sure the tank was inspected before the sleeve was put on?

Manchester Tank has a plastic sleeve on its new cylinders with a note at the bottom that reads, “Please remove before use.” Each cylinder has a permanent label with the appropriate safety warnings on the tank – not the sleeve.

According to Tom Freeland, vice president of quality management, R&D, and engineering, “We recommend sleeve removal because of the DOT requirement to thoroughly inspect the cylinder prior to refilling.”

Propane is a safe, convenient, energy-efficient source for cooking with outdoor barbeque grills. While we have addressed safety issues regarding overfilling, I think it’s time to review the advisability of plastic sleeves on exchange cylinders.

With the prices being charged, I believe it is essential we deliver a product that safely fits the bill. Maybe it’s time to roll up our sleeves for the sake of safety.

Jay Johnston ( is president of Jay Johnston & Associates Inc., specializing in safety audits, insurance consulting and unique speaking presentations for propane marketers. Jay can be reached at 952-935-5350 or

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